(AP) — The Miami Heat are the reigning NBA champions, and their current winning streak only reinforces their status as a contender for back-to-back titles.
For now, they’ll just try to continue their dominance of the Philadelphia 76ers.
The visiting Heat try to record just their second double-digit win streak of the past seven seasons Saturday night when they go for a 12th straight regular-season victory over the 76ers.
Miami (38-14) is pulling away in the Eastern Conference thanks to a nine-game winning streak that includes victories over the Pacific Division-leading Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City, the team it defeated in last year’s NBA finals. Including those two wins, each of the last six have been decided by double figures.
The Heat, who are closing a four-game road trip, are averaging 105.2 points on 51.4 percent shooting over the last nine games. Their only longer win streak since the start of the 2006-07 season was a 12-game run Nov. 29-Dec. 18, 2010.
“We all had a vision of how this team was going to really operate together, but there is no limit,” center Chris Bosh said. “We can continue to get better. We can continue to play better together. Our defense can continue to improve. If we want to win in the postseason, it’s going to have to.”
The defense was superb in Thursday’s 86-67 win at Chicago, yielding a season low in scoring and forcing 27 turnovers while limiting the Bulls to 37.3 percent from the field. Opponents are averaging 92.7 points and 17.8 turnovers during the Heat’s winning streak.
“We’re putting together some good basketball right now,” said LeBron James, who had 26 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists. “We’re defending. We’re creating turnovers. We’re winning the turnover game offensively. We’re the best shooting team in the league … so if we don’t turn the ball over, we get good shots at the rim, we could also have a good chance to win.”
Facing the 76ers (22-30) should also increase those chances.
The Heat’s only loss in the past 16 meetings came in a 2011 first-round playoff series. They’ve won 11 straight over Philadelphia in the regular season dating to March 15, 2009, including four last season while limiting the 76ers to an average of 85.5 points.
James scored 41 in the most recent matchup, a 99-93 home win April 3.
The Sixers have dropped four of five while averaging 85.0 points on 40.1 percent shooting. The All-Star break didn’t seem to help, returning Wednesday only to see their losing streak reach three games with a 94-87 defeat at Minnesota.
Coach Doug Collins realizes they’ll have to play much better to have a chance against the Heat.
“I never put any more on one win over another,” Collins said. “Miami is playing fantastic basketball. They’ve won nine in a row. They’re very, very active defensively. Everybody talks about their offense, but the best part of who they are is their defense.”
Jrue Holiday is averaging 14.0 points – five below his season average – over the past three games while hitting 35.4 percent from the field. The All-Star guard scored 9.0 per game and shot 30.8 percent in last season’s series with the Heat.
Evan Turner has totaled 37 points in the last two games, and he had 26 in the most recent versus Miami.
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